The Comparative Fallacy: An Analysis and Discussion of Selected Research

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Eun-Young Kwon


Ever since the introduction of the “independent grammars assumption,” whereby a child is said to have its own grammar and not just an imitation of adult language, first language (L1) acquisition researchers such as Martin Braine (1963) and others have constructed grammars for children’s languages rather than treat them as defective adult grammars. This is based on the view that language learners create grammars of their own, rather than master the target grammar imperfectly. Thus, at any moment, a child’s grammar is an independent system. In second language acquisition (SLA) research this notion has led to several slightly variant conclusions. On the one hand, second language (L2) learners should be treated as already having a language of their own, not just as poor beginning learners of the target language, and should be encouraged to create a system from experience and internal resources rather than have the target language thrust down their throats by teachers (Johnson & Johnson, 1998). In reality, however, as Cook (1999) asserts, “SLA research has often fallen into the comparative fallacy (Bley-Vroman, 1983) of relating the L2 learner to the native speaker” (p. 189). 

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